Tag Archives: social psychology

Move Over Cupid, Proximity is the New Matchmaker

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When I’m not near the one I love, I love the one I’m near.

—E. Y. Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow

Proximity and Repeated Exposure

We never really think about it, but is it really surprising that students who take the same courses, sit next to each other in class, or live side by side in dorm rooms tend to develop closer friendships than those who don’t? Sales people in large department stores form closer friendships and ties with those who work alongside them in the same department than with people who work just several yards away in another area.

Are humans just natural love-magnets that attract people who are physically close to us? Or, is there some other explanation for the strong positive effect of proximity? One of the most interesting explanations was offered by researcher Robert Zajonc, who viewed the positive effect of physical proximity as the result of “repeated exposure.” Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to clothing choices, foods, music, and people.

People Don’t Like What’s Not Familiar to Them

Humans have an inborn discomfort to people and environments that are not familiar to them. On top this, we are socialized from a very young age to avoid unfamiliar things and people. Do you recall your mom telling you, “don’t touch that, you don’t know where its been” or “don’t talk to strangers”? And even as adults, it’s very unlikely that we would respond positively to a stranger, even though this fear is completely irrational. How would you feel if a guy randomly approached you on the street and told you that he would like to get acquainted with you? Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us.

…But They Like What’s Familiar To Them

But what if we have seen this same stranger every time you went shopping at the supermarket or on the bus on your way to school – would you react differently? More likely than not, you would. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, and it puts us at ease. This occurs even when we are not consciously aware that we were exposed to a particular person. In a study that demonstrated this, subjects were asked to talk about some neutral topic with two people who were confederates of the experimenter. Before the conversation, a photograph of one of the confederates was flashed on a screen so quickly that the subjects were unaware of it. Despite their lack of awareness of this subliminal exposure, the subjects still responded more favorably toward the familiar person than they did toward the person whose photograph was not flashed.

In another experiment, men and women who did not know each other were asked to look in each other’s eyes for 2 minutes (a long time when you look into the eyes of someone you do not know). The result was that both the men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the person with whom they locked eyes. Of course, this is not practical in a real life situation. Saying to someone, “let’s look into each other’s eyes for two minutes” would likely be perceived as bizarre rather than romantic.

Repeated Exposure Intensifies All Feelings, Positive and Negative

So let’s say there’s a guy at work you don’t like or you don’t get along with. Should you spend more time with him or ask him to lock eyes with you for two minutes? NOOOOO.

When someone annoys us, repeated exposure, rather than making us like that person more, will intensify our negative feelings. This explains why police records show that most acts of violence do not happen between strangers, but between people who are close, such as husband and wife, family members, friends, and neighbors. In other words, repeated exposure intensifies the dominant emotion in the relationship. When the dominant emotion is anger, repeated exposure enhances the anger.

Suggestions for People Seeking Love

Try to arrange your life in a way that allows you to have many opportunities to meet people you want to engage in a friendship or relationship with regularly through your workplace, residence, or recreational activity. An opportunity to meet and get acquainted is almost a prerequisite for the development of a romantic relationship. But, meeting once is not enough. Don’t count on “love at first sight” because that rarely happens. Repeated exposure is much more powerful and reliable than waiting for someone to pop up out of the blue and confess their love to you.

But keep in mind, meeting repeatedly does not guarantee love. Just as much as repeated exposure can increase positive feelings of you in someone, a negative impression can be exacerbated by repeated exposure as well. If the first impression is negative, it is best to cut contact, let the first impression dissipate, and then give the relationship another chance. In such a case, repeated exposure will not change the initial dislike or disdain into love but will most likely increase them.

Sources:

Kellerman, J., Lewis, J., & Lard, J. D. (1989). Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love. Journal of Research in Personality.

White, G. L. & Shapiro, D. (1989). Don’t I know you? Antecedents and social consequences of perceived similarity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bornstein, R. F., Leone, D. R., & Galley, D. J. (1987). The generalizability of subliminal mere exposure effects: Influence of stimuli perceived without awareness on social behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pierce, C. A., Byrne, D., & Aguinis, H. (1996). Attraction in organizations: A model of workplace romance. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

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Does Flattery Work? How About Insincere Flattery?

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You have an amazing fashion sense. Those clothes you’re wearing today — they look great!  Seriously!

Of course, you don’t believe me. But chances are, on an unconscious level you do believe me, and my compliment makes you feel warm and gooey inside, enough to predispose you to do something nice for me. Muwahahaha

Usually, when a friend gives you a compliment, you feel flattered because you take it as a sincere compliment. That’s because friends don’t usually have an ulterior motive to make you like them any more than they should. But what if a salesman at CarMax or the hairstylist at your salon gives you a compliment? Normally, your BS meter should go off, discounting that compliment because you realize that they both have a financial motive to flatter you and keep you as a customer. But this is all happening on a conscious level. What is going on at the unconsciously? How are your behaviors affected by these efforts to flatter you?

The distinction between conscious thoughts and unconscious feelings is crucial. We can hold opposite conscious and unconscious views of the same subject at the same time, as we all know, but what most people aren’t aware of is that our unconscious ideas and feelings have a tremendous reign over our behavior, much more than we give it credit for.

Jaideep Sengupta, along with Elaine Chan, both professors of marketing at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, examined how flattery affects our decision-making. In their study, participants were shown a flyer complimenting them for being stylish and chic and were asked to imagine that it had come from a clothing store. The participants knew perfectly well the compliment wasn’t aimed specifically at them, and their ulterior motive was plain — the leaflet contained a message asking them to shop at their store. There was nothing subtle about the attempt to flatter — its obviousness was “over the top”.

On a conscious level, the participants discounted the value of the compliment because of its impersonal nature and the ulterior motive. However, their results suggest that even after discounting, the initial positive reaction to the flattering message does not get wiped out; instead, it coexists with the discounted evaluation. When participants were given a choice, they were more likely to choose a coupon from a store that had complimented them than from one that hadn’t. So even though they were consciously aware of the fact that they we re being flattered insincerely, they still chose the store that complimented them. This may seem weird, but to me, this makes sense. Human beings are social creatures and we are driven to pursue validation. Even if the validation is blatantly insincere, I still think many, if not most, people would prefer that over no recognition at all. Chan and Sengupta’s findings suggest that flattery has an insidious ability to pierce through the conscious mind and into the unconscious, where it creates persistent feelings that could affect the outcomes of all kinds of activities.

Two things to take away from this post:

Flattery, even insincere flattery, works. Also, stay as far far away from marketers and people with MBA’s. They know too much…

Source: “Insincere Flattery Actually Works: A Dual Attitudes Perspective” Journal of Marketing Research (2010).

http://www.bm.ust.hk/~mark/staff/Jaideep/Jaideep%20JMR-Feb%202010.pdf

Image: Wesley Bedrosian for The Boston Globe

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How Can You Be More Attractive Without Actually Doing Anything?

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Have A Decoy.

Whether it be digital cameras, puppies, restaurant entrees, cosmetics or love, we all view things relative to the things around it. Take the image above for example; this graphic depicts the illusion of relativity. Although the circles in the middle are the same size, (you can measure them if you don’t believe me) when placed within the smaller circles on the left the circle seems bigger than when it is placed within the larger circles on the right.

Dan Ariely explains relativity from Predictably Irrational:

When Williams-Sonoma first introduced a home “bread bakery” machine (for $275), most consumers were not interested. What was a home bread-making machine, anyway? Was it good or bad? Did one really need home-baked bread? Why not just buy a fancy coffeemaker sitting nearby instead? Flustered by poor sales, the manufacturer of the bread machine brought in a marketing research firm, which suggested a fix: introduce an additional model of the bread maker, one that was not only larger but priced about 50 percent higher than the initial machine. Now sales began to rise (along with many loaves of bread), though it was not the large bread maker that was being sold. Why? Simply because consumers now had two models of bread makers to choose from. Since one was clearly larger and much more expensive than the other, people didn’t have to make their decision in a vacuum. They could say: “Well, I don’t know much about bread makers, but I do know that if I were to buy one, I’d rather have the smaller one for less money.” And that’s when bread makers began to fly off the shelves.

But enough with bread makers. Let’s now take a look at relativity and how a decoy would work in a completely different situation.

What if you are single, and want to appeal to as many attractive potential dating partners as possible? Simple: Bring a friend who has your basic physical characteristics but is slightly less attractive than you. People tend to compare things with one another but they also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable – and avoid comparing things that are dissimilar. So if you’re Asian, 5’8”, slim build, and upscale-casually dressed, bring along another friend who is also Asian, around 5’8”, has a similar body-type, and slightly less well-dressed. If your best friend happens to be Caucasian, 6’2”, muscular, and wearing a sports jersey, he’ll do you no good. Why? Because the folks you want to attract will have a hard time evaluating you with no comparables around. However, if you are compared with a “you (-1),” the decoy friend will do a lot to make you look better, not just in comparison with the decoy but also in general, and in comparison with all the other people around.

There. Look awesome with no extra effort on your part.

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And now that you know this secret, be careful: when a similar but better-looking friend of the same sex asks you to accompany him or her for a night out, you might wonder whether you have been invited along for your company or merely as a decoy.  –Dan Ariely

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Are You More Interested In Someone Who Is Already Taken?

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Highly likely. 

A new study provides evidence for what many have long suspected: women are much keener on pursuing a man who’s already taken than a singleton.

Researchers from Oklahoma State University conducted this mate-poaching study by asking 184 heterosexual students at the university to participate in a study on sexual attraction and told the volunteers that a computer program would match them with an ideal partner. Half the participants were single and half were attached, with equal number of men and women in each group.

Unknown to the participants, everyone was offered a fictitious partner who had been tailored to match their interests exactly. The photograph of “Mr. Right” was the same for all women participants, as was that of the ideal women presented to the men. Half the participants were told their ideal mate was single, and the other half that he or she was already in a romantic relationship. Everything was the same across all participants, except whether their ideal mate was already attached or not.

The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase. Men were keenest on pursuing new mates, but weren’t bothered whether their target was already attached or not. Attached women showed least interest and were slightly more drawn to single men.

A Stamp of Approval

Burkley and Parker, the researchers of the study, speculate that single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity. But what else motivates women to pursue “taken” partners? Apart from the explanation of “pre-screening”, another possibility, they say, is that in US society, women are socialized to be competitive, so they derive self-esteem by mate poaching from rival women.

Implications for Gay Couples

While this was conducted with heterosexual couplings, it’s not hard to extrapolate these findings to male-male or female-female couples as well since the concept of “pre-screening ” is not hetero-exclusive. And going by the conclusion the researchers offer, gay men should be even more likely to pursue these semi-unattainable mates because they are socialized, more so than women, to be competitive.  

Source: “Who’s chasing whom? The impact of gender and relationship status on mate poaching” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2009.

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